James Lindholm is many things. He is a professor of Marine Science, the Chair of the Department of Marine Sciences, and the Chair of the research dive program, all at California State University Monterey Bay. He received his undergraduate from California Polytechnic State University, and his graduate (MA and PhD) from Boston University. James completed his Postdoctoral Fellowship at the National Undersea Research Center at the University of Connecticut, worked at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), published a textbook on Marine Conservation, and has had over 40 articles published in peer-reviewed journals. James has participated in underwater research around the globe. Oh, and he is the author of the Chris Black Adventure Series. His first two thrillers in the series, INTO A CANYON DEEP and BLOOD COLD were recently re-released. The third book in the series, DEAD MEN'S SILENCE was released early this month. James has been gracious enough to take a few minutes to answer some questions.
MB: Let's me start by asking an obvious question. How does on ocean explorer with such a distinguished career end up writing thriller novels?
JL: My career as a marine scientist keeps me fairly busy, and I’m very excited by the opportunities that career provides me. It really is a dream come true. But I still dream nonetheless, and one of the main things I dreamed about for years was writing a novel. I read thrillers and adventure novels from a very early age, and I never gave up on the idea that one day I’d write one myself.
MB: Your protagonist, Chris Black, is a marine biologist with an impressive resume of his own. How much of your own experiences are integrated into your character and stories?
JL: I’ve conducted scientific research in each of the locations where my books are set; here in Carmel for INTO A CANYON DEEP, in South Africa for BLOOD COLD, and in the Galapagos for DEAD MEN’S SILENCE. I hope that my direct experience with the locations as a scientist comes across in the stories.
None of my characters are based on any single person; they are all amalgams of people I’ve met over the years, with a healthy bit of imagination thrown in. That said, many of my own experiences do find their way into the stories, and as the main protagonist, Chris has encountered some of the same things that I’ve dealt with myself. For instance, just in the past week I was diving with my research team near the Carmel Canyon (featured in INTO A CANYON DEEP) when a great white shark appeared at the surface very close to us violently feeding on something. It was…exciting, and not unlike some of the scenes I’ve written about. On the lighter side, I visualized Chris’ dog Thig more than eight years ago, and now I have a dog in the house who very much reminds me of Thig, right down to his sliding around on the wooden floors in his exuberance.
MB: With everything that you are involved in at the university, as well as your research, how do you ensure that you have time to write?
JL: The endeavor of research science is never over; it could literally consume a person 24/7 for an entire career; multiple careers, in fact. Success in that kind of environment, at least in my experience, requires an ability to manage time. You have to bound individual activities or nothing would ever be completed. That has proven helpful for writing. I don’t write every day, but I am thinking about the next book every day. There’s a pile of yellow sticky notes on my bedside table with bits of scenes, and I have an outline document open on my laptop at all times so I can jot down thoughts as they come. Usually I reach an inflection point with the outline and jump right into writing. This approach can take some time, but it means I don’t have to force the writing.
MB: Out of all your books, was there a scene that you found particularly difficult to write?
JL: Ha! Definitely. I’m not a huge fan of writing ‘love’ scenes, though I don’t really have any in my novels to-date. I tolerate them in many of the thrillers I read, but I don’t see that kind of scene ever being a part of Chris Black’s stories. I’m surrounded by students every day (or at least interacting with them via Zoom these days), and I don’t think I could look them in the eye knowing they’ve read my novels with sex scenes included. Funny thing is, I was encouraged by a graduate student not long ago to add exactly that kind of scene. It was a strange conversation.
MB: I'd like to talk about the craft of writing for a moment. Some writers plot out all of the elements before putting a single word to paper. Others allow the story to grow organically as they write. Tell me about your writing process.
JL: I really like the process of outlining. My outlines usually have two or three sentences about each chapter, sometimes with key plot points bulleted so I can keep track of them as the plot develops. So, I guess it’s fairly structured in that regard. But there is an organic element as well; I often rearrange chapters, split chapters and/or add chapters later. I actually carry the outline around as a hard copy and hand write notes in the margins. Once there’s a first complete draft of the story written up, I generally ditch the outline in favor of tweaking the narrative directly. Additionally, as a professor I’m a big fan of having a white board around at all times. With the novels, I’ve been known map out interactions within, and between books, in a big relational diagram. It helps me visualize the progression from one story to the next.
MB: Let's shift gears for moment and talk about reading. Many writers say that reading is just as important as writing. Do you have a specific genre that you tend to frequent when selecting a book to read?
JL: I completely agree. Several years ago, I received a book by Stephen King called ON WRITING. In the book, he picks passages from various books he’s read that he likes, and then he explains why he likes them. It’s really an interesting read and emphasizes how impactful what we read can be on our writing.
My tastes are pretty eclectic, I’ve read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy more times than I can count. I also have a copy of Gerald Durrell’s THE CORFU TRILOGY by my bed; there are so many epically funny passages that I’ve marked, I can go right to them when I need an infusion of humor. Further, I will admit to having a lot of spy and legal thrillers around the house. I’m a huge re-reader. I love reading things more than once. Prior to starting the first Chris Black novel, I re-read the entire Prey series by John Sanford (more than 20 books at the time), as well as all of the Alex Delaware novels by Jonathan Kellerman, to study the character development and pacing across multiple novels.
MB: What is your favorite under-appreciated novel?
JL: Great question! I think most of my favorite novels are well-appreciated (see answer #6). I suppose my answer would be Stephen King stories like IT and THE BODY (which was the basis for the movie Stand By Me). They’re obviously appreciated, but I think largely for their contributions to the horror genre. I love them both due to the extraordinary character development, particularly with how King captures childhood. I experienced a childhood very much like the kids in IT (absent the homicidal clown creature). Even when I was a kid, I recognized the poignancy of King’s writing in that regard. I think he’s a genius.
MB: Your latest novel, DEAD MEN'S SILENCE came out this month. What can we expect from you now that the book is released? Are you working on any new projects?
JL: I’ve been working on the outline for Chris Black’s fourth adventure. It has changed a great deal over the past two months. In fact, I’ve pulled out the entire first half of the outline and will use that for book five. Now I think I’ve got book 4’s outline close to ready. Chris travels to Israel to participate in a saturation diving mission to an undersea habitat deployed in the Red Sea as part of a joint mission by Israel, Egypt and Jordan. As you can imagine, the volatile Middle East serves as a good backdrop for an adventure.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today. Good luck with DEAD MEN'S SILENCE.
James Lindholm's new book, DEAD MEN'S SILENCE is available now. You can discover more about James and his books on his website at www.jameslindholm.com. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jameslindholm03, on Instagram at instagram.com/jlindholm3/, and on Facebook at facebook.com/james.lindholm.9.
You can purchase DEAD MEN'S SILENCE at these retailers.